When Technic Wasn’t Technic

The history of LEGO Technic is simple and straightforward, right? The theme began in 1977 with four sets, and it’s been a constant fixture in the catalogue ever since. Well… the fact that you’re reading a BrickNerd article about it means things are not that simple.

Before There Was Technic

Let’s start with the pre-history of what we now know as Technic. It actually starts much earlier than you might expect with set 001 “Gears”, a Samsonite set released in 1965 that mainly contained, well, gears! Axles and bars didn’t exist yet, so these gears were actually modified plates with studs and anti-studs. You could put them on metal axle wheels with studs introduced two years before. The gears weren’t that big a success, appearing in only two more sets the year after.

Samsonite set 001 from 1965. Image from Brickset.

A few years later in 1970 with lessons learned from the Samsonite sets, we got a step closer to Technic. LEGO released a number of Universal Building Sets with new gears and a range of supporting parts like axles and bricks that those axles fit through. The smallest of the gears was also used as a hub for a new tire, and this tire was used in some more sets, like the F1 car and the motorbikes in the Hobby Sets theme.

1970s gears and supporting parts in set 802. image from Brickset.

The Real Thing

And then came the introduction of Technic with sets 850 – 853 in Europe in 1977, and in the US with sets 948, 952, 954 and 956 in 1978. Or did we?

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The sets had no Technic branding. Instead, they were advertised in the US as “Expert Builder” and in the UK as “Technical Sets”. In the rest of Europe, it was “Engineering like in real life” (“Technik wie in Wirklichkeit”). It’s not all that strange, though. Back in those days, themes weren’t branded like they are today. Classic Space was Legoland Space but you wouldn’t see that branding on the box.

LEGO Technic logo, introduced in 1982. (C) the LEGO Group

The Technic branding was finally introduced in 1982. Five new sets were introduced that year: three Universal sets and a motor accessory set, all with the new logo on the box.

And then there’s set 8846. It doesn’t have the new logo. Was it meant to be released in 1981? It’s hard to find out the story behind that set so many years later, but it makes 8846 officially the last unbranded Technic set. Or is it? Stay tuned…

Set 8846 from 1982, without the new Technic branding. Image from Bricklink.

Technic now had a name and a logo, but there was no dramatic change. New models kept coming out every year, and new parts were added to the range. Just to mention some highlights, the Technic minifigure was introduced in 1986. The original Liftarm (2825) came in 1989 and in 1996 we saw the proper beginnings of studless Technic with one of the best ever sets, 8480 Space Shuttle.

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Two interesting small sets were released in 1998; 8226 Mud Masher, interesting for its never repeated four-wheel steering mechanism without a steering wheel, and 8219 Racer, the set that ended my dark ages.

A New Logo and Theme

LEGO Technic logo, introduced in 1999. (C) the LEGO Group

In 1999, a new logo started appearing on some sets, and the following year, it was on all Technic sets. That year was also the last year of the Technic minifigure. But the year before that new logo, something else happened. A new theme was launched based on the Technic parts palette but with its own name and branding.

That theme was of course Mindstorms. Other themes had “borrowed” Technic parts, like Model Team for its car chassis, but this was different. At age 21, Technic suddenly had a sibling. And that sibling brought new elements to the party, like motors and sensors.

LEGO MindStorms logo, introduced in 1998. (C) the LEGO Group

Soon after, it happened again. In 2001, Bionicle was born. It was based on Technic but with its own aesthetic and parts palette. Also in 2001, the Racers theme was born and while it didn’t have an official Technic sub-theme, many Technic sets were released under the brand starting with the Williams F1 in 2002 and continuing all the way to 2009. The short-lived Spybotics was a Technic-based theme in 2002, and in 2003, we had the Sports Ice Hockey sub-theme with some dubious designs.

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Meanwhile with all those new themes taking up resources, the original Technic theme wasn’t doing so well. 2000 had been a good year for Technic. A total of 34 sets were released, among them accessory packs, some smaller sets, two flagship sets (the F1-based Silver Champion and the crazy Power Puller), and the Robo-Riders. However, 2001 was a very different story; only nine sets came out, including two re-releases, a promotional set, and a wind-up motor accessory pack. The next year was even worse, with only three sets, all of them re-releases.

The Big Shake-Up

2003 was a big year for LEGO. The company nearly went bankrupt and many things were changing. It was the year when Duplo was rebranded to Explore (only to revert to Duplo the year after) and Town was replaced with World City (only to revert to City two years later). It looked like the same thing was happening to Technic. Only a single set was released with Technic branding; set 8438, released as 8431 the year before and as 8460 in 1995. Was this the end of Technic as we knew it?

Mars Explorer set 7471, released under the Discovery theme. Image from Brickset.

Well, yes and no. LEGO was still producing Technic, but mostly under various brands. I already mentioned Racers, which released nine Technic-based sets in 2003 including the great remote-controlled Supersonic RC and Sports, which had another nine Technic sets. And the short-lived Discovery theme included a Technic Mars Exploration Rover.

Then came five special Technic sets that shook things up. They were the first wave of the new all-studless Technic and were special because they had no theme branding. The boxes and instructions looked like that year’s Creator but had no branding besides “LEGO”. Twenty years later, 8451 and 8453 are still among my favourite small studless sets, and 8455 is a legendary pneumatic set; no set before or since has had more pneumatic functions.

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In 2004, things returned to normal for the Technic theme. Four new studless sets were released, all with Technic branding again, and even the 2003 sets received a facelift with new black Technic-branded boxes. Racers continued with the 1:10 scale Ferrari F1 racer and the Dirt Crusher, an outdoor RC set that I’ll cover in more detail in a future article.

Ferrari F1 set 8386, released under the Racers theme. Image from Brickset.

All Good Things

This was also the last year of the Mindstorms RCX era. In 2006, the Mindstorms NxT was introduced. After a successful run of five years, it would eventually be replaced by Mindstorms EV3. That turned out to be the last generation of Mindstorms; the theme was officially (and sadly) discontinued in 2022. The spirit of Mindstorms lives on in Spike Prime, although that’s only available through LEGO Education.

LEGO BIONICLE logo, introduced in 2001. (C) the LEGO Group

Meanwhile, Bionicle was going from strength to strength. Part of the first wave still had the Technic branding, but after that, the only logo used was Bionicle. It is often credited as one of the two themes that kept LEGO from bankruptcy (the other being Star Wars). But nothing lasts forever, and in 2010, LEGO announced the end of Bionicle after a 10-year run.

LEGO Hero Factory logo, introduced in 2010.
(C) the LEGO Group

It was replaced by Hero Factory, a theme that looked similar to the untrained eye, but had its own back story and TV series. It wasn’t quite as successful as Bionicle, and LEGO pulled the plug in 2014, making way for a two-year encore for the Bionicle theme.

Technic Is Here To Stay

Since then, things have gone back to “normal” for LEGO Technic. LEGO education still produces Technic sets with branding that changes every few years (BricQ looks like it’s replacing Spike) and Technic-based constraction figures appear in various themes like the Star Wars figures between 2015 and 2018. But otherwise Technic is the only “Technic” theme again.

Koi Carp set 81000 from the Forma theme. Image from Brickset.

In 2019, LEGO experimented with the introduction of the Forma theme on the Indiegogo crowdfunding platform. There was one complete set in the theme, the Koi Carp built around a Technic skeleton. The other three sets were skins for different fish. Apparently, it wasn’t a great success, or LEGO got all the information they needed, as we haven’t seen any follow-up.

There is a case to be made that many System sets are becoming more Technic-based with Icons vehicles and complicated play features becoming the norm, but that is also an article for another day.

At age 46, the Technic theme is in rude health as they say. In 2023, 18 Technic sets were released, the highest number since 2000, and for next year, 12 sets have been announced already. So what does the future hold for Technic? Will there be another Bionicle-type theme? Will we ever see a Technic Ideas set? Only time will tell.

So there you have it, BrickNerd fans! Everything about the history of the LEGO Technic theme, brand, and sub-themes and/or related brands. Technically speaking… Were you aware that LEGO Technic sets actually predated branded Technic sets? Let us know in the comments below.

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